Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Bill C-35 was announced in the 2013 throne speech. It proposes to amend the Criminal Code and create a new offence to specifically prohibit the killing, maiming, wounding, poisoning or injuring of law enforcement animals, military animals and service animals.
Anyone found guilty of such an offence could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison. The NDP is opposed to any form of animal cruelty, and we have been defending that position in our legislative work for a long time. By way of evidence, two of my colleagues have already introduced bills on this subject.
For example, my colleague from Parkdale—High Park introduced Bill C-232, which seeks to move animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and create a section on animal cruelty. Under the existing legislation and the Criminal Code, a person must own the animal or have some connection to it in order to be found guilty of animal cruelty. That means that if a stranger savagely kills an animal, he cannot be convicted under the law.
For example, the definition of “animal” is inadequate. It must be reviewed and so must the provisions of the Criminal Code. Bill C-232 would allow the justice system to deal more effectively with animal cruelty offences and increase the possibility of conviction for animal cruelty offences. This is a good bill. My colleague met with thousands of people who support this bill. I would therefore like to ask the minister and my colleagues across the way if they will work with us to regulate and enhance animal cruelty offences.
I would also like to talk about Bill C-592, which was introduced by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine. This bill seeks to better define what an animal is under the Criminal Code and define what is meant by intent and acts of cruelty. I would again like all my colleagues across the way to tell me whether the Conservative government will support these bills, which seek to modernize the Criminal Code and better regulate the treatment of animals.
We all agree that Bill C-35 is a step in the right direction, but we need to do more. There is still more work to be done. Something that bothers me a little is that the Conservatives have once again introduced a minimum sentence, which prevents judges from using their discretionary power. In reality, individuals are sometimes sentenced to prison terms that are longer than the minimum. This shows that judges are capable of making a proper judgment.
Bill C-35 is known as Quanto's law, in tribute to a law enforcement dog in Edmonton that was killed when trying to intercept a fleeing suspect. The offender was sentenced to 26 months in prison for animal cruelty. In this case, the judge used his discretionary power and relied on jurisprudence, existing laws and the evidence presented. This is how it should be. It is up to the courts, to an experienced judge, to determine a fair sentence for the offence. With Bill C-35, the government is once again showing its propensity for wanting to take away the courts' discretion.
As I said earlier, New Democrats believe that animal cruelty is disgraceful. We care about protecting these animals that are so dear to so many people. I want to share some examples of dogs that have demonstrated their loyalty to humans. In an exceptional case in France, Zarco was awarded the bronze National Defence Medal, which is normally handed out to human beings.
Very few animals, even those that are faithful law enforcement assistants, have received that honour. Zarko, who was specially trained to find lost people, was amazingly effective.
He began serving in 2002 alongside his master, officer David Monteil. Bearing badge 4637, the dog participated in 145 searches and 54 interventions with the Peloton de surveillance et d'investigation de la gendarmerie in Narbonne. Throughout his seven years of loyal service, Zarko, a French dog, saved lives and helped catch criminals. In 2006, he found the trail of a 78-year-old man lost in the vicinity of Narbonne, as well as that of a 79-year-old woman with Alzheimer's. She had wandered away from her retirement home and gotten lost. Zarko found her. In July 2007, in the stifling heat, Zarko saved a man with serious mental illness who was intending to commit suicide. The following August, he found the driver of a stolen car who had fled. In January 2008, near Lézignan, Zarko performed another miracle when he helped find a six-year-old child with autism who had left his parents' home. The child was half naked, wet from falling in water-logged ditches, and shivering with cold. In October, in Port-la-Nouvelle, the four-legged police dog found the body of a motorcyclist killed in a traffic accident whose body was submerged in a creek that ran through dense vegetation. On March 26, 2009, as Zarko was nearing retirement, he performed one last deed and found a 73-year-old man with diabetes and Alzheimer's who had left his home five hours before. This is a truly remarkable example.
I would like to talk about an example that is a little bit closer to home. Samba is a hero. This dog saved the life of his owner, Ms. Karin Hennelle, who is 68 and in a wheelchair. One day, when she was on her daily outing with her dog, a truck approached when she was about a kilometre away from home. There was a lot of gravel on the road, so the truck was driving down the middle of the road. Ms. Hennelle decided to get off the road. She moved over to the side of the road at the edge of a ravine. The truck went by, but the wheels of Ms. Hennelle's wheelchair slid on the grass. The wheelchair slid and Ms. Hennelle fell into the ravine. She said: “I felt myself falling. It felt strange.” Ms. Hennelle tumbled five metres down into the ravine until a tree stopped her fall. She had fallen. She would no longer be with us were it not for Samba. That is when the dog took action. Ms. Hennelle said: “I told the dog to go up and get help. Of course, I did not really think he understood me, but he went onto the road and barked as loud as he could.” The dog caught the attention of a farmer, and firefighters then came and rescued Ms. Hennelle. She says that she owes her life to her dog.
Now I would like to give a more institutional example. Until 1981, there was no Canadian guide dog training facility. The MIRA Foundation created the first such school in Sainte-Madeleine in Quebec. In order to get a guide dog before 1981, one had to turn to schools in the United States. However, those institutions provided no services in French. All services were in English. On October 21, 1981, MIRA proudly introduced the first two guide dogs trained in Quebec. Since that time, MIRA has been pursuing its goal to increase the independence of people with disabilities by providing them with dogs bred and fully trained to respond to their adaptation and rehabilitation needs.
We are talking about service dogs, animals that are already protected under the law. However, we are indebted to these animals, with whom we live every day, animals that are so important in our homes. They joyfully welcome us home after a long day at work. They are often more pleased to see us than our own children are. These dogs can console an adolescent in tears or simply be a good companion for a small child or senior. That is why I urge the government to support the two bills introduced by the NDP on animal cruelty.